It's too early for a definitive answer, but few conservatives appreciate the opportunity costs of total combat.
After I reviewed Philip Klein's e-book about how conservatives should behave if Mitt Romney is elected, he and I had a conversation about Election 2012 and related subjects over at Bloggingheads.tv. In the clip above, Klein notes that after Obama's victory, there was an argument among Republicans about how to respond to a newly elected, relatively popular president:
We all remember how popular he was when he came in. There was one side that said we need to moderate and change our image, and we can't be as combative with Obama. And there was another school of philosophy that said we have to block his agenda and stand up against him, and we're not going to compromise on these principles. Clearly over time the latter category won out.
But it wasn't clear where things were going to fall in 2009.
In conversation, I argued that the Tea Party too often mistakes a combative posture with standing on principle. A polite fiscal conservative like Mitch Daniels is considered a squish for suggesting a temporary, tactical truce on social issues. Jon Huntsman is totally dismissed by the conservative movement for a tweeted zing aimed at the base, despite a very conservative governing record. Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich adeptly throws out red meat and is accordingly presumed a staunch defender of conservative principles, despite years of glaring unprincipled behavior.
Perhaps the GOP's unmitigated combativeness and obstruction these last two years will end in a victory in the upcoming election. Especially if it doesn't, Republicans will have to confront the opportunity cost of the path they've chosen. I am not talking about the good of the country. Set that aside for the time being. What I'm saying is that Obama would've traded major concessions for GOP support on his health-care bill, he would've cut a deal that reduced the deficit with significantly more spending cuts than tax increases, and he might've even cut a deal on entitlements.